Living Grief and Beauty

When things get complicated, when life gets difficult, when bad things happen – it’s hard to jump back in and write an inspiring post about decorating or color or staging or ANYTHING. Grief is overwhelming. That’s where I am right now, so I hope you will bear with me.

grief quote


On occasion, I am offered a press pass to cover a design event or show house. Sometimes I’m fortunate enough to get to meet some really interesting people and even do an interview, like the one I shared last week with celebrity designer, Windsor Smith.

interior designer windsor smith

photo by The Decorologist


I had committed to the promoters of the Nashville Antiques & Garden Show that I would be there to cover it.  I try to do what I say I’ll do, so I attended with last Friday with my friend, Elizabeth, of Superior Construction & Design. She helped me get my mind on lovely things, rather than painful things, if only for a few hours.

superior construction and design


The Antiques & Garden Show was, indeed, full of lovely things. Flowers and books and antiques, to name a few.

scarlett scales antiques

Scarlett Scales Antiques


garden show




And a few oddities that , I’m quite sure, only Southerners would appreciate!

taxidermy fox


We had front and center seating for Windsor Smith and Gwyneth Paltrow’s presentation.

windsor smith and gwyneth paltrow

Windsor Smith & Gwyneth Paltrow – photo by The Decorologist


Of course, Gwyneth had handlers and body guards and such. She didn’t realize she was speaking in Nashville, and that we weren’t the paparazzi!  If you know Nashville, you know we are too Southern to hound or chase famous people – we see celebrities fairly regularly, and we typically just pretend like we don’t recognize them and say “Hi, there,” just like we would anyone else we pass on the street. Only the handful of us with press passes got to take her photo, and you can see that I managed to get thisclose to her. We were only allowed to take two photos, but I took as many as I could before they shoo-ed us away.

gwyneth paltrow book signing in Nashville

Gwyneth Paltrow – photo by The Decorologist

Designers Bunny Williams and Brian McCarthy spoke about their years working at the iconic Hadley-Parish firm, and it was a lovely and humorous conversation about learning at the feet of two of the greatest designers of the 20th century. It was really very delightful to get lost in their stories. Here’s a great clip of Bunny describing the yin and yang of Sister Parish and Albert Hadley:


Personally, the last few weeks have been very difficult and heart-wrenching for me. The week prior to the event, my uncle who was like a father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I was trying to spend as much time as possible with him, as we knew his time left was short. And here I was, snapping photos and walking through beautiful vignettes, as if life was beautiful and all was right with the world.

the decorologist and bunny williams


And all I could think about is, what if he dies while I’m in this line waiting to get my book signed by Bunny Williams? How would I be able to forgive myself? Thankfully, that did not happen. The respite likely helped me get through the following days, but I felt a lot of guilt enjoying a day away from the dying.

And then, I had a thought: how many people in this place were going through something painful, unspeakable even, but enjoyed a day like this when they could focus on something lovely for just a little while?

antiques and garden show audience


Most of them, I daresay. Many of them grappling with the difficult things in life. Cancer. Loss. Betrayal. Rejection. Hey, even Gwyneth is dealing with conscious uncoupling.

gwyneth paltrow conscious uncoupling


I took the photo below with my cell phone as I sat with Uncle Ralph the following day. It’s not lovely – my nails are a horrid blue color and his hand is veiny and bruised, but I needed one last image of him. Only this tiny bit of him seemed appropriate to immortalize given his condition. Elizabeth had this photo printed and placed it in a lovely gilded frame for me to keep in remembrance of those last days with him.



After six long days in the hospital and six longer days in Alive Hospice, my uncle passed away peacefully in the early evening on Valentine’s Day. I was holding his hand then, too. After being unconscious for three days, his eyes opened and he held my gaze for a timeless moment as he took his final breath.

No one escapes this life without pain and grief. But beauty and joy is in our midst when we are able to lift our eyes to see it.


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80 thoughts on “Living Grief and Beauty

  1. Tammy Roberts says:

    Hugs to you Kristie, I’m sad for your loss . You have written a touching post that reminds me so often we don’t know how people are on the inside because everything looks normal on the outside. Tammy

  2. Sarah Hepburn-Smith says:

    I am so sorry for your loss Kristie. Beauty really can provide comfort in difficult times. I am glad you were with your Uncle in his final days.

  3. LaPriel says:

    Thank you for sharing such a beautiful post

    May you be comforted every time you feel the loss of him not being there.


  4. Pamela says:

    Yes enjoying lovely things in the midst of great sorrow is necessary. But the real beauty of these days in your story is “he opened his eyes and held my gaze in a timeless moment as he took his final breath”. What a treasure. An employee of ours heard a gun shot several weeks ago and ran outside to find his 20 yr old son shot in the head. He raced to him and they locked eyes as his son died in his arms. These moments, truths, are the REAL beauty of this life we live. Thand you for heart is heavy for you. May God comfort you in your great distress.

    • Kristie Barnett says:

      Thank you, Pamela. What a sad thing for your employee to have to go through – it’s hard to even imagine that kind of loss. I’m so glad to have been with him and had that last moment with my uncle – it was a blessing.

  5. Jan Garon says:

    I am so sorry for your loss. Sometimes we need an injection of what gives our heart fulfillment to deal with heartache, if only for a short while.

  6. Cathy says:

    There is so much pain and heartache in this world….
    Several years ago my husband passed away suddenly. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through, but because I went through it I have some understanding of what you are going through.
    And thank you for reminding me that there is beauty and joy in the world!! I knew I was working my way through the grief when I could finally feel true joy again.
    My prayers are with you Kristie.

  7. Harriette Blake says:

    Wisely stated, my friend. I lost my brother to pancreatic cancer. I hope that a combination of lovely things, close friends, and happy memories of your uncle will heal your heart.

  8. Kim says:

    Kirstie, so very sorry for your loss. What a beautifully poignant post. Thank you for touching our hearts, while sharing yours. Wishing you peace.

  9. Nancy says:

    Kristie, thank you for sharing. Please continue to broaden the space around you by holding close the beauty in life. Continue to embrace beauty throughout your time in grief. It is so important. I was unable to do that. I continue to pay the price. You’ve shown us that appreciating the beautiful is like breathing to you. I understand that connection intimately. Those you love, and those that love you, will understand also. And the ones contained in that intimate circle are the only ones that matter. Hugs. Sincere hugs.

  10. Kathi says:

    My thoughts and prayers are with you,Kristie- I lost my Uncle,Richard Crenna,the actor ,from pancreatic cancer within 3 months of diagnosis- It turned everyones life who loved him into a tailspin -His beautiful wife of 45 years, his wonderful 3 children, 3 lovely granddaughters,extended family-life is not fair sometimes and when my mother was dying of cancer 3 months after she retired ( she was happy , healthy and looking forward to her retirement ) I said just that and she looked at me and said, life is not fair if you are a child with cancer, I have lived 67 years of a happy life, don’t feel sorry for me, feel bad about babies and children who never got that chance. I still miss both of them everyday, but life does go on.

    • Kristie Barnett says:


      Wow, your uncle was such a great actor. Isn’t it strange how even though we know that we all have to die, when we lose someone we love, we are somehow shocked at the unfairness – when truly, death eventually happens to us all. It’s just a matter of when. I suppose it helps us to take full advantage of the time we have. Thank you for sharing, Kathi.

    • Kristie Barnett says:

      Thank you, Angel. My father passed away 8 years ago after a week of hospice care at home, so I at least knew what to expect. But I’ve certainly never experienced anything like the last few minutes with my uncle – it was so surreal, almost like a movie. My friend had just stopped by to visit with me and was actually in the room with he died. She told me that she had been present at several deaths, but had never seen a more beautiful passing.

  11. Chez says:

    What a beautiful and poignant post. Thank you for sharing your loss with us. Please don’t let yourself feel guilty for your respite. It sounds like your spirit needed that time in order to truly prepare and be present for the next part of helping your uncle pass. Holding you and your uncle in my thoughts. Be gentle with yourself.

  12. Linda says:

    A touching post; sending my condolences and what a beautiful memory picture. So true, everyone in the audience is most likely going through a situation sometimes unbearable. My sister recently lost a granddaughter who was hit by a car while she crossed the street. Thank you for sharing this post and my prayers are with you. xo

  13. kathleen Barry says:

    Beauty and joy are in our midst when we are able to lift our eyes to see it. Well stated. May God hold you in the palm of his hands as you walk on while he rests………..Much sympathy to all the family.

  14. Rhonda says:

    A beautiful post I’m sure most of us can identify with… pain, grief, guilt, loss…. My mother, who is suffering with dementia, has been with me for a few months and leaves this week for her home with my dad. I am feeling the same emotions and question myself: Did I do enough for her? Will she know me the next time I see her? Will I even see her again? Having to remind myself that God is in control. Prayers for you at this sad time of your life.

    • Kristie Barnett says:

      Thank you, Rhonda – dementia can be so difficult to deal with, I’m sorry to hear your mother is experiencing it. My uncle was diagnosed with dementia three years ago, and it was hard watching him go downhill when he had been so brilliant and independent his entire life. It’s like watching them become helpless children, moving backwards in a way. I pray for strength for you and your father as you walk this journey with your mom!

  15. Alison DePew says:

    You are right, you know, about finding beauty and taking respite despite grief and loss and death. I too lost a special man in our lives just a day before your’s – my mothers dear and devoted husband. It is so sad, but through that pain we remember so many lovely times together, his contributions to us and the community, his place in our family… Wishing you peace and sweet, sweet memories.

  16. Mary CC from CA says:

    Dear Kristie, I am truly sorry for the loss of your uncle. I am glad you were able to have the time to be with him at the end. I am also glad you were able to fill a few hours of your time with happy distractions which we all need during difficult times. In the end we can only do our best to be present if time allows us. I too lost my father over the holidays on New Years Eve and know the pain of losing a loved one. I was blessed with a cherished moment with my dad before he passed and I will always keep that in my heart. I believe your uncle knew you were there for him when it mattered most, and I am sure he felt your love right up to the end. Take comfort in that and carry your happiest memories of him in your heart as well. Valentines day next year will be all the extra special to celebrate as you remember your uncle. Hugs.

    • Kristie Barnett says:

      I’m so sorry to hear about your dad’s passing, Mary. I miss my father so much (he passed away 8 years ago). You are right about Valentine’s Day – I was actually so happy that he went to be with the Lord on a day that would always be remembered as special. He was an incredibly generous man, so it was fitting. I hope you are able to celebrate your father every New Years, as well.

  17. Gina says:

    Awe, so beautifully written, Kristie. Yes, everyone has a story of some kind of suffering, myself included. It’s the beauty we choose to see that heals us, not in the unending “why me” stuff. You honored your uncle by being there not for his death, but his life. Thanks so much for sharing and I send a hug.

    • Kristie Barnett says:

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Gina. You know, finding value in things that most people overlook and don’t see the beauty in is very healing for me in many ways. Even better than appreciating obvious beauty, if that makes any sense.

  18. Beth Lester Designs says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss, Sweetie. I’ve come to see life as a railroad – there is parallel loss and joy going on most of the time. The beauty is what heals & nurtures us so we CAN get through the grief and trials.

    I’m also thankful you had that “moment” with your uncle. My husband and I were talking yesterday about his recent unexpected hospitalization (back surgery infection) where his body was wracked with massive spasms & excruciating pain – it was horrible to watch. He said one time we locked eyes and all he felt was love, and that kept him going while his body was betraying him. I know your Uncle felt your love.

    • Kristie Barnett says:

      Your husband is so fortunate to have someone like you to love him so – I pray that he will recover soon and be relieved of his pain. I love your railroad analogy, I will tuck that one away in my heart for when I need it 🙂

  19. Karin Hensley says:

    Such a beautiful post, Kristie! Thanks for sharing your heart with us. I’m so sorry for your great loss.


  20. summgardner says:

    I am from the Northeast and am touched by this post as I only discovered your site recently. Your post reminds all of us that no matter where on this earth we live, all of us endure saddness and death in our lives. This was so touching.

    • Kristie Barnett says:

      Oh, thank you so much! I don’t usually get so personal on the blog, but there was no way around it if I was going to be able to start writing again. It just felt as though anything I wrote would be fake if I didn’t address what was going on inside.

  21. Tatia Caruana says:

    It must not have been easy to share something so personal with us. Something beyond the Decorologist. We connect to your blog not only for the beauty you create but also for the heart you put into it. Bless you and your family.

  22. LW says:

    Oh Kristie, I am so very sorry for your loss. Like Cathy, I too lost my husband very suddenly several years ago. It was my first experience with the loss of someone so beloved to me, and it is a journey I wish none of us would ever have to endure. I discovered that grief is so much more complex than I ever dreamed it would be, and is so much more than just deep sadness. One of the things I found that really helped me was a small book called Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations for Working Through Grief by Martha Whitmore Hickman. It was so powerful for me that I keep a stack of them at home and give them to everyone I know who loses someone, and virtually all of them have later said how much it helped them. I highly recommend it. I will be thinking of you, and I’m so glad you had those final days and moments with him. What a precious gift.

    • Kristie Barnett says:

      Thank you so much for sharing – I am so sorry to hear that you lost your husband. I will look for the book you recommended, and I’m sure many people will be blessed by your sharing it here!

  23. Robin says:

    So very sorry for your loss. It is always so painful to lose someone we love and who loved us back. What wonderful memories you will always have. We too, lost someone close to us this past week. Our forever friend…it was indeed so painful and I shed tears for you and me while reading your post. It was beautiful and touching.

    • Kristie Barnett says:

      Oh, Robin – I am so sorry for your loss, as well. I suppose that we should take solace that we are never really alone in the times when we feel as though we are. So many are going through similar or more tragic things, when all we see is the surface – the smiling face, the “I’m fine, how are you?”

  24. donna-michelle says:

    Thank you so much for writing this. I don’t think you will ever know the impact that you may have on the lives of others by sharing your experience. I have the utmost respect for you, and my prayers are with you. My brother in law died in May after a four year battle with cancer; he had been in Hospice for around eight weeks when he passed. As a teacher, I shared with my classes the struggle and the feelings that I had. I cannot begin to tell you how many of my students have opened up and talked to me about their losses. Thanks so much for being authentic. You know, we are all part of the family of humanity; “No man is an island”. Prayers for you and your family. Your love for your relative —inspiring.

    • Kristie Barnett says:

      You are too kind and you give me way too much credit, Donna. It wasn’t a choice, really. I just loved him and knew he needed me. He never had children of his own, so I always liked to think that he thought of me as a daughter. I think it’s great that you helped your students deal with their own grief and struggles by sharing the reality of death – we often shield children as though that’s good for them. My daughters have experienced a lot of sadness over the last three weeks, but it’s an important part of being a good human and learning to cope with pain. There’s no avoiding pain in life, we just have to decide how we will deal with it.

  25. Kelly says:

    I read your post earlier and was so touched that I could not answer. Care so much about you and so sorry for your loss. I LOVE your picture holding his hand, so precious! Can’t wait to meet you soon! I will be in touch! xo

  26. Cyndia says:

    I am so very sorry for your loss, Kristie. Cancer is an unbelievable a**hole. We have lost several of my hubby’s family to pancreatic cancer, and my husband has lived with lymphoma since his diagnosis in 2000. Some days are so hard to plow though, but we do it because it’s so much better than the alternative.
    What we have learned through our experiences of caregiving and cancer and grief is this: it is only through immersing ourselves in the beauty that we can survive the darkness. Finding those moments of grace is key. Never allow guilt to interfere with that. I’m not religious but I am spiritual, and I believe that we are given those moments of incredible beauty and joy in the midst of pain to remind us to cherish each and every moment, as we never know when life can be taken away.

  27. Paula Stewart says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss. What a beautiful and touching post. As a result I have spent time this morning remembering loved ones, sending prayers to others and reflecting on the people I love most and what is best about this world. Thank you!

  28. Linda says:

    So sorry for your loss Kristie. You need to take the time to grieve. One thing I have found that helps me get through the dark times is beauty. You are loved by so many and everyone is supportive and understanding of the pain and sadness you are going through. Your heart will heal and life will go on but please don’t feel any pressure to “produce” for your followers. We are all here for when you are ready to get back to what you do best.

  29. Amy says:

    I’m keeping you in my thoughts & prayers…sometimes it seems like there is so much sadness going on all around us…thank you for the reminder that there is much beauty too. And I agree with the above comment…take all the time you need to grieve and don’t pressure yourself to “move on.” Seems like time is the only healer and it takes whatever it takes to heal…no rules. xo

  30. Debi Marcum says:

    I am so very sorry for your loss. My thoughts and prayers are with you. Healing from a loss of someone you loved so much will take time. Do what you need to do, to heal. Take all the time you need.

  31. Molly Morris says:

    Just want to say I’m sorry ~ I lost my mom to cancer at the end of January. I feel like I can finally begin to heal after months of feeling like I was an open wound. Watching her slip away was so hard. At church on Sunday, I heard it said that when one blessing in life is taken away, another will come. Keep looking for the blessings! ~ Molly

  32. Arell says:


    My heart goes out to you and your family during such a sorrowful time. I have lost my husband and mother to cancer and it can be very hard for everyone. I am glad that you got to be by your Uncle’s side and that he got to say goodbye (in his own way) at the very end. That means a lot. I hope that you are able to start your healing and move forward which I am sure is what your Uncle would have wanted. It takes time. There is so much to be thankful for. My prayers and thoughts are with you.

    • Kristie Barnett says:

      Thank you so much for your words and prayers. I am sorry for the loss of your husband and mother, as well. May you have peace that passes understanding. I know I’ll get there eventually 😉

  33. Donna says:

    Kristie, I lost my dearest Dad to pancreatic cancer last May. I’m so sorry you are going through this heartache, too. Your photo holding your uncle’s hand is precious. You are in my thoughts and prayers today. Hugggs XOXO

  34. Veronica Domurat says:

    Beautiful words and I’m very sorry for your loss. I was thinking that you were not posting as often and now I understand. Please don’t feel rush by my comment, I am just saying that it kind of explains why.

  35. Kim says:

    Kristie, I just read this post after taking about a month and a half from business to grieve the loss of my own mom. I, too, was with her for her very last breathe and I understand how precious yet painful that was for you. Thank you for this post, showing us that it’s okay to step away from difficult times. We all need it to rejuvenate, to gather our strength to move through the rough moments, and to reminded ourselves that there is beauty when you seek it. It was insightful of you to recognize that many people standing in that room may be going through something of their own – that same is true for your readers. I am so sorry for your loss, I hope you do find so much comfort in all your lovely memories of him.

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